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Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh: An Iconic Figure In India's Military History

Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh: An Iconic Figure In India's Military History

NEW DELHI: Arjan Singh, Marshal of Indian Air Force and India’s oldest and the only officer of the IAF to have been promoted to five-star rank, breathed his last at the Army hospital here today.

He was admitted to the Army’s Research and Referral hospital on September 16 in a critical condition after suffering a cardiac arrest. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had visited him that very evening to inquire about his condition.

Famous for his stellar role in the 1965 Indo-Pak war when he led the IAF from front, Arjan Singh had a life-long zest for flying and had flown 60 different kinds of aircraft. During the war when Pakistan had launched ``Operation Grand Slam’’ targeted at the crucial border town of Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir, it was Arjan Singh who led the air force with his professional skill and courage.

Widely respected and admired for his leadership qualities, Arjan Singh was an iconic figure of the Indian military history. He always remained a source of inspiration not only for young flyers of the IAF but also from the other two wings of the country’s armed forces. Even being a nonagenarian he walked ram-rod straight and went to Delhi airport to pay his last respect when former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s mortal remains were flown in from Shillong two years ago.

He was born on April 15, 1919 in Pakistan’s Faisalabad in a military family and joined the air force when he was only 19 in 1938. After a year he was commissioned from England’s Royal Air Force College Cranwell. His role during operations on the Burma front during World War II drew appreciation from all quarters. He was the first Indian pilot to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) by the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia. He was described as a fearless pilot who was endowed with exceptional qualities.

After India was declared Republic in 1950, Arjan Singh headed the Command of IAF’s operational group for two years and again from 1955 to 1959. He also took a number of courses in military academics in RAF Staff College, Brackwell, Joint Services Staff College and London’s Imperial Defence College.

He took charge of Indian Air Force’s third chief of staff in August 1964. In 1965 he was honoured with Padma Vibhushan for his role in Indo-Pak war. When he retired in 1970, he became one of the longest serving chiefs of armed forces in the country. During his tenure as Air Force chief, IAF acquired modern fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, transport planes and tactical helicopters.  

He was picked up to be India’s Ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and High Commissioner in Kenya in 1974 and to Vatican as well. Later, he served as Delhi’s Lt-Governor and proved to be a hands-on administrator.

In 2002, Arjan Singh became the only IAF officer to be promoted to five-star rank, a distinction equal to the Field Marshal. Last year West Bengal’s Panagarh Air Force base was renamed as Air Force Station Arjan Singh. He became the only living military officer to have a base renamed after him. 

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